When we strolled into the office from lunch, Genevieve handed us a sheaf of pink phone message slips.
"Any good news or money?" Chris asked. (It was a line he'd admired in A Thousand Clowns and appropriated for his own use.)
Genevieve riffled through the phone slips, pulled one out."You might want to call this one first," she advised. "It's from Bob Cinadar."
"Hot damn," Chris said. "When Uncle Bobby calls sometimes we get both."
Bob Cinadar wasn't an uncle to either of us. But we thought of him that way because of all the career-guidance he'd given us. After years working for Jack Webb on shows like Dragnet and Emergency, Bob had become the ultimate fix-it man that all the studios and networks called on when a show was in trouble. Then he'd come in and take over the program for just long enough to straighten it out and be on his way to the next trouble spot.
We'd written a Quincy for him - Riot - which had not only topped the ratings for the series' fifth season, but remains a cult favorite to this day. We'd also written what proved to be the last episode of The Rockford Files, The Solid Gold Spike. In the case of Quincy, Cinadar managed to make peace between Jack Klugman, the star, and Universal Studios. In the case of The Rockford Files, James Garner had been screwed over by the Black Tower Pencil Brigade too badly for Bob to fix anything. In either case, our scripts were aimed at helping to solve the problems and went a long way in establishing our reps as fix-it guys.
Chris headed to his desk, dialed the phone and when Bob's secretary answered he flipped the desk speaker on so we could both hear. Out contract was nearly up at Code Red and it was our hope that once we'd escaped Irwin (The Towering Toupee) Allen's clutches that the angels of freelancing would immediately smile on us. And in the past Bob Cinadar had proved to be an angel, indeed, albeit with a craggy face.
Cinadar's gruff voice came on the line. "Hey, boys, how's life treating you over at Code Red?"
"Like shit," Chris said. "We want out of here in the worst way."
Hope bloomed for both of us. Chris flashed me a thumbs up.
"You coming in to take over the show?" I asked. "If so, we've got to warn you that the Towering Toupee has things so fucked up that neither of us think the show can be salvaged."
Another Cinadar chuckle. "Towering Toupee, huh? You guys are priceless. But, no, I'm not heading over your way. I was asked to help a show of Irwin's a few years ago, but all I got was a case of the hives. He's a piece of work. Thinks the world revolves around his asshole. I chewed him out when I left, but he's such a wizened little jerk-off that he still thinks I love him."
I said, "You've got Irwin pegged, that's for sure." Then, fingers crossed, I asked, "Got anything for us, Uncle Bobby? Our contracts are up in a few weeks."
Chris chanted, "All we want for Christmas is a Burning Toupee." We were entering the holiday season. Thanksgiving and Christmas were just ahead of us.
Bob chuckled. "Irwin really got to you, huh?"
"You don't know the half of it," I said.
"Actually, I do," Cinadar said. "Or, a bit of it anyway. You see, Irwin phoned me at home last night."
Chris' eyebrows shot up. "What the fuck, over?"
Bob said, "Yeah, that's why I'm calling. To give you boys a heads up."
"I repeat my last," Chris said. "What the fuck, over?"
"He cried on my shoulder for half an hour about all his problems at Code Red," Bob said. "How the network fucked him over on the timeslot and the budget and then forced him to take that little hairball Adam Rich off their hands. It seems that when Eight Is Enough was still on, Adam's agent got a guaranteed TV series deal. A bullet-proof pay or play deal."
Suddenly, everything clicked into place. So the fact that Adam (The Beach Ball) Rich had been foisted on us by the Anything But Class (ABC) network had little or nothing to do with the ratings game. Pay or play, meant that either ABC had to put young Mr. Rich into a series - with a fat salary package - or pay him whether he worked or not. But, in one deft move they'd shifted the financial burden over to Columbia Studios, the suckers - I mean backers - of Code Red. And they probably didn't much care whether the series worked or not. Which is why they'd put us up against 60 Minutes - the monster CBS hit at 7 p.m. Sunday night. They were just going to burn it off, deal and all.
"And Irwin's known this all along," I supposed.
"Of course, he has," Cinadar said. "After all these years in the Biz, Irwin knows to buy his KY Jelly by the caseload. But what he's really hoping is that if he can bump the ratings up two or three points he can maybe muscle the network to go for a second season. Or, if they cancel him, he'll be able to take the series over to another network and make the Magic One Hundred."
The Magic One Hundred was the number of episodes needed to sell a show into syndication. Basically, networks only paid a portion of a show's budget. In our case, a measly $600,000 an episode. Even though we'd all cut costs to bare bones, it was still running us upwards of $700,000. Well, not us, personally - but Columbia Studios, with a little from Irwin's vaults, which were rumored to be even deeper and more heavily guarded than Jack Benny's.
It was a high stakes Craps game, called Deficit Financing. Because for that $600,000 the network got two runs - the first showing, plus a rerun in the summertime, or whenever. After that, the negatives belonged to Columbia Studios and Irwin.
To show you what a syndication deal can deliver, in later years (1988 or so) when the A-Team was sold into syndication, we were told that Frank Lupo and Steve Cannell - creators of the program - cut up $120 million. That's $60 million each. And that was just their share. Universal Studios and other entities probably coined at least that amount. Using my handy-dandy inflation calculator, $120 million dollars in 1988, equals $223,641,559.70 today. Get my drift?
"Irwin's frantic about it," Cinadar went on. "Says he can't sleep at night."
"Probably suffering from uncontrollable regurgitation as well," I said.
"Well, boo-fucking-hoo for fucking, Irwin," Chris said. Then: "What's he want you to do about it?"
"Well, before he had a chance to ask," Cinadar said, "I told him that I wasn't available. So, instead, he asked what he should do to rescue the show?"
"And you said..." We both asked at the same time.
"I told him his only hope was to hire the best fix-it team of writers I know - Bunch and Cole." Uncle Bobby said.
"And Irwin said, 'But, I already have Bunch and Cole.'
"And I said, 'Then, Irwin, you'd better call in the dogs and piss on the fire, because it is fucking over, man.'"
After falling all over the floor and laughing our heads off, we thanked Uncle Bobby and said goodbye. (We didn't know it'd be the last time we would talk to him. Almost exactly a year later he died of cancer. He was a helluva guy and I miss him still.)
Just after Thanksgiving, we were stealing time away from Code Red again, toiling over The Wolf Worlds - the second Sten novel - when Genevieve buzzed us.
I answered to hear her say, "You've got a call from Irwin."
I said to put him on, please and in a second I heard Irwin's secretary saying, "Hold for Irwin Allen."
It was Irwin's style to get his secretary to call you, then make you wait until he deigned to come on the line. So, I held. Meantime, I cupped a hand over the receiver and whispered to Chris, "It's the Towering Toupee."
In his patented stage whisper which could be heard from here, to Lower Subservia - and maybe even as far as Upper Hoostania - Chris said, "Tell him to go fuck himself."
Then, knowing there was plenty of time, he got out the Scotch and made us a couple of drinks. I swallowed half of mine right off the bat, knowing I was going to need it.
Then I heard Irwin's voice. Filled with phony cheer. "Allan, my boy, as you are no doubt aware your contract is up Friday."
Damn right, we were aware. We'd already hauled most of our stuff home, including some office supplies that we'd ripped off.
I said, "Time sure can get away from you, can't it Irwin?"
A false chuckle. Then, "Well, it's quite close to Christmas. And it has always been my policy in these situations to extend my people's contracts a week or two. So, they won't be out of work during the holiday season. And in that spirit, I'm going to extend yours."
Irwin waited. Obviously expecting effusive thanks. I looked over at Chris, mouthed the word "contracts" and spread one hand away from the phone, indicating that Irwin wanted to extend same.
Chris shook his head. Mouthed the words, "Fuck him," and in my ear I heard Irwin say, "Allan? Are you there?"
"I'm here, Irwin," I said. "And we both thank you for your generous offer. But it won't be necessary. We'd just as soon go home."
I heard Irwin make with a shocked, "Oh!" as it sunk in that we'd just told him to take his job and shove it.
Then he recovered enough to say, "Good luck to you, boys."
He waited a beat, but I didn't wish him the same.
And then he broke the connection.
I hung up and turned to Chris. "Well, to quote the eminent philosopher, Robert Cinadar," I said, "Let's call in the dogs and piss on the fire, because we are fucking out of here, partner, mine."
Chris raised his glass in toast - "Merry Christmas, partner."
And I toasted back, singing, "Toupees roasting on an open fire..."
We drained our drinks and I must say, it was the best Scotch I have ever tasted.
NEXT: STEN VS. THE SANTA ANA WINDS